Monday, February 20, 2017

Ice-locked ship to drift over North Pole

The Arctic is a key area of global climate change, with warming rates exceeding twice the global average

From BBC by Jonathan Amos

It is being billed as the biggest single Arctic research expedition ever planned.
Germany is going to sail its 120m-long research vessel, the Polarstern, into the sea-ice at the top of the world and just let it get stuck so it can drift across the north pole.
The 2,500km (1,550-mile) trip, to begin in 2019, is likely to take a year.
Researchers hope to gather valuable new insights on the region where Earth's climate is changing fastest.

Last month the extent of Arctic sea-ice was the lowest ever recorded for a January (during the satellite era), with temperatures several degrees above the long-term average.
Prof Markus Rex will lead the so-called MOSAiC project:
"The decline of Arctic sea-ice is much faster than the climate models can reproduce and we need better climate models to make better predictions for the future.
"There is a potential that in a few decades the Arctic will be ice free in summer. That would be a different world and we need to know about that in advance; we need to know is that going to happen or will that not happen?

 Illustration of the MOSAiC polar expedition, before the ice completely freezes over trapping the research vessel RV Polarstern (Alfred Wegener Institute)

"Prof Rex outlined the plan for the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The German scientist, who is affiliated to the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, said the €63m (£54m; $67m) expedition was very nearly all funded, and would have key contributions from international partners.

 A realtime 3D VR app for visualizing imagery from different camera systems deployed aboard the RV Polarstern.
For details please see the paper.

Other European states, such as the UK, are involved - so too the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese.
The mission has echoes of the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen's attempt in the 1890s to be the first person to reach the North Pole by drifting in a ship locked in ice.
A schooner called Tara also traversed the frozen ocean - from Siberian waters to the Fram Strait - in the same way a decade ago.
But the RV Polarstern is an enormous science platform and its list of tasks and goals dwarfs those of all previous efforts to work in the region.
"We’re bringing a vessel full with equipment: many, many measurement containers and remote sensing in-situ instruments," Prof Rex said.
"We'll take water, ice and air samples. And we'll set up camps on the sea-ice close to the Polarstern and others up to 20-30km away. And the whole set-up will drift across the Arctic. That will give us a new and absolutely fascinating insight into the climate system."
The MOSAiC team even plans to make runways on the sea-ice so research planes can take to the air in support of the RV Polarstern.

 Possible route. The drift would start in the East Siberian Sea. RV Polastern would be taken over the top of the world and be released by the sea-ice in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard

It will, however, be a difficult expedition for the scientists involved, especially during the freezing midwinter period when the Sun will not get above the horizon.
The researchers will also have to keep their eyes peeled for predatory polar bears.
But Prof Rex said the endeavour was vital to our understanding of this remote region and stressed the relevance to the wider public who live far from the North Pole.
"A warmer pole would affect weather patterns at mid-latitudes," he told BBC News.
"A warming Arctic means that the temperature contrast between our latitudes and the North Pole will be reduced in the future. This means the flow of air, the wind, that blows around the Arctic will be less zonal in the future climate, and it will allow for more excursions of cold air from the Arctic to our latitudes, and more excursions of warm air from lower latitudes to the North Pole. That certainly will have a strong impact on our weather."

RV Polarstern is expected to take up position ready to be captured in the sea-ice in the late summer or autumn of 2019, with the intention of being released a year later.

Links : 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

R2AK Race to Alaska

The inside passage to Alaska has been paddled by native canoes since time immemorial, sailing craft for centuries, and after someone found gold in the Klondike the route was jammed with steamboats full of prospectors elbowing each other out of the way for the promise of fortune.
It’s in the spirit of tradition, exploration, and the lawless self-reliance of the gold rush that Race to Alaska was born.
R2AK is the first of its kind and North America’s longest human and wind powered race, and currently the largest cash prize for a race of its kind.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Here are the teams competing to map the ocean for $7 million in prizes

 Part submarine, part aircraft, Rutgers University researchers have developed a drone that is just as at home underwater as it is flying through the air.
Watch the video to see the "Naviator" drone in action!

From Popular Science by Mary Beth Griggs

We’ve mapped the surface of the Earth in excruciating detail, with images of individual streets and rivers and canyons photographed and catalogued.
But one area of the Earth remains a mystery: the ocean floor.

Ninety-five percent of the ocean hasn’t been mapped in any kind of detail.
The maps of the world’s seafloor that you see online are mostly approximations based on scattered bits of data collected by expeditions over the years.
“What we see on Google Ocean is really about a five kilometers [16400 feet] resolution,” says Jyotika Virmani, head of the Ocean Discovery XPrize.
“Imagine where you are, and then something five kilometers [or bigger] is the only other thing you know. That's the kind of resolution that we currently have.”

 Team Arggonauts from Germany has proposed a swarm of 12 deep-sea robot drones.

On Thursday, Virmani announced the 21 semifinalist teams who will advance to the next round of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize competition, and who will hopefully help make the seafloor less of a mystery.
They will compete to build new technology to map the seafloor down to a resolution of just five meters (16 feet).
The teams are comprised of researchers from all over the world, a mix of both students and professional engineers and oceanographers.
To compete, they must design a system that is able to operate more swiftly than any existing mapping technology in extreme temperature and pressure conditions that are very different from what we experience on land.
“This is a chance to develop a technology to explore a new planet,” Virmani says.
The researchers are given a good amount of leeway to approach the mapping problem.
During the upcoming round of competition they will have to map at least 100 square kilometers in a 500 kilometer test area, take a photograph of a specified object on the seafloor, and identify and take photo or videos of five other objects of geological, biological, or archaeological importance.
They’ll have 16 hours to gather the data and 48 hours to process it.
The test site won't be announced until later this summer, but we know teams will be competing in the fall, and that the test site will be located in waters about 2,000 meters deep.

 Conceptual image of Blue Devil Ocean Engineering’s heavy UAV.
(Image: Duke/Blue Devil Ocean Engineering)

The teams are taking a wide variety of approaches.
Many are using swarms of underwater drones to cover a larger swath of the test site.
At least one team, Eauligo, from France, plans to use drones that will mimic bee behavior beneath the sea.
Others are using drones to drop Automated Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) near the test site, and still others, like New Jersey-based team SubUAS, are using drones that can fly as well underwater as they do above it.

They will be scored on how well and how quickly they can complete the tasks set in front of them.
Of the 21 teams in the first round of semifinals, up to 10 will be selected to move on to round two.
Those 10 (or fewer) teams will split a benchmark prize of $1 million and will have time to perfect their machine before sending it once again into the deep.
Only this time, they will be required to operate in 4000 meters of water—the average depth of the sea floor.

$1 million will go to the second prize winner, and $4 million will go to the first prize winner.
An additional $1 million will go to the team that competes an additional competition sponsored by NOAA, which asks teams to develop a tech that can track a chemical signal through the open ocean.
 All the money is a bonus, but Virmani and others hope that these inventions might help expand the world of ocean exploration, and help us preserve the ocean that we have.
“In order to make something healthy you need to value it but to value it you need to understand it,” Virmani says.

A list of the semifinalists and their projects as provided by XPrize follows:
  • Arggonauts (Karlsruhe, Germany) – Led by Gunnar Brink, the team is creating a swarm of 12 intelligent deep-sea robot drones using insight gained through two previous projects.
  • BangaloreRobotics (Bangalore, India) – Led by Venkatesh Gurappa, the International team is developing innovative and low-cost Underwater Swarm AUVs.
  • Blue Devil Ocean Engineering - Duke University (Durham, NC, United States) – Led by Martin Brooke, the Duke University team is working with heavy lift aerial drones that drop retrievable diving SONAR pods.
  • CFIS (Arnex-sur-Nyon, Switzerland) – Led by Toby Jackson, the team is designing a swarm of underwater robots that use lasers for ocean floor mapping as well as imaging of interesting creatures and formations.
  • Eauligo (Nice, France) – Led by Christopher Lewis, the team is developing miniature micro subs that mimic bees and their behavior to map and explore the deep ocean.
  • Environdrone (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) – Led by Ryan Cant, the team is using aerial drones that launch next-gen AUVs.
  • Exocetus (Wallingford, CT, United States) – Led by Joe Turner, the team employs several low-cost underwater gliders equipped with side-scanning sonar to map for extended periods of time.
  • Gebco-NF (New Zealand, Global) – Led by GEBCO-Nippon Foundation  scholars, the  12 nation team is integrating  existing technologies with a new unmanned surface vessel  to contribute to  comprehensive mapping of the entire ocean floor by 2030.
  • Pisces (Portugal) – Led by Nuno Cruz, the team is aggregating Portuguese technologies developed at INESC TEC (Porto) and CINTAL (Algarve) to create the PISCES system that leverages cooperative robotics.
  • Kuroshio (Yokosuka, Japan) – Led by Takeshi Nakatani, the team is integrating technologies owned by Japanese universities, institutes and companies for a unique collaborative approach centered around AUVs.
  • Lehigh Tide (Bethlehem, PA, United States) – Led by Matthew Ciolino - The Lehigh University team is creating a cost-effective autonomous underwater vehicle that can accurately scan the ocean.
  • Ocean Quest (San Jose, CA, United States) – Led by Danny Kim, the team endeavors to design a marine STEM platform for students worldwide to enable project-based learning with new technology and techniques.
  • Oceanzus (Durham, NH, United States) – Led by James Case, the team is creating a continuous operating platform that supports multiple survey assets to realize the mapping goal.
  • OD-Africa (Accra, Ghana) – Led by Mark Amo-Boateng, the team is building intelligent low-cost modular AUV/ROV systems to democratize ocean discovery, using advanced artificial intelligence and algorithms to navigate and explore the ocean.
  • Orca Robotics (San Diego, CA, United States) – Led by Phillip Rhyner, the team is creating an underwater system that uses phase array radar and computing power to provide results in real time, which is a new use for this approach.
  • SubUAS (Piscataway, NJ, United States) – Led by Rutgers professor Javier Diez, the team has created an AI-enabled drone that can fly quickly to remote survey locations, dive into the water and use a second set of propellers to navigate and intelligently explore underwater before flying home for data download, repowering and return flights.
  • Tampa Deep-Sea X-plorers (Tampa, FL, United States) – Led by Edward Larson, the team is using existing technology and side scanning sonar on multiple AUVs to fully cover the large mapping area.
  • Team Tao (Newcastle, United Kingdom) – Led by Dale Wakeham, the team is developing an autonomous swarm system for rapid surface to deep ocean exploration.
  • Texas A&M University Ocean Engineering (College Station, TX, United States) – Led by Dylan Blakeslee and working in partnership with successful alumni of Texas A&M; the University team is using drone ships and AUVs equipped with innovative navigation systems, renewable power generation and chemical sensing technologies to explore remote ocean habitats.
  • Virginia Deep-X -- Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University (Virginia, United States) – Led by Dan Stilwell, the team is developing small and low-cost underwater vehicles that operate in coordinated teams.
  • X994 (Austin, TX, United States) – Led by David Ryan, the team is working to optimize robotic mapping of the ocean through advancements in software, AI, and data analytics.

Links :

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How one brilliant woman mapped the ocean floor’s secrets

 This animation by Rosanna Wan for the Royal Institution tells the fascinating story of Marie Tharp’s groundbreaking work to help prove Wegener’s theory.
Continental drift is common knowledge now, but when the idea was first proposed it was revolutionary. Helen Czerski tells the story of how the maps of one of history’s finest cartographers shifted our view of the planet.
In the early 20th century, Alfred Wegener proposed a revolutionary idea: that the Earth’s continents were once joined together, and had gradually moved apart.
The idea contradicted almost everything scientists thought at the time, and it took the detailed work of a brilliant cartographer to prove him right.
Conventional ideas held that the ocean floors were flat, featureless planes.
As expeditions started to go around the world collecting ocean depth measurements, Marie Tharp – not allowed to join the expeditions herself – processed the data and began to craft detailed, revealing maps of the hidden ocean depths.
She discovered that the ocean floor was in fact a complex assortment of peaks and troughs.
In particular, her profiles revealed stark rift valleys, which supported Wegener’s controversial ideas.
Even then, it took a long time to convince the scientific community that her findings were correct.
Eventually, however, she was proved right, and Marie Tharp took her rightful place as one of history’s finest cartographers.

From National Geographic by Betsy Matson

Marie Tharp’s incredible maps were integral to the acceptance of the plate-tectonic theory.

She is one of the most underappreciated scientists in the history of the earth sciences.
Though Marie Tharp was a geologist whose work contributed to the ultimate acceptance and success of the plate-tectonic theory, her legacy has garnered little recognition—and most of it has been for her cartographic endeavors.
In my opinion, however, even the admiration she has received for her maps—including the “Atlantic Ocean Floor” map, published in 1968 in National Geographic magazine (included below)—doesn’t rise to the level that those incredible maps deserve.
The animated short above—created by the Royal Institution and selected by National Geographic’s editors for the Short Film Showcase—gives a nice overview of how Tharp’s work advanced the geological sciences by promoting the acceptance of continental drift and seafloor spreading, the key components of plate tectonics.

 The Mid-Atlantic Ridge stands out in glorious detail on this map of the Atlantic Ocean Floor by Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp, published as a supplement to the June 1968 issue of National Geographic Magazine.
see "World ocean floor" map

The magnitude of her accomplishment, particularly as a woman in the mid-20th century, working in a field dominated by men, is perhaps best conveyed by Tharp’s own words.

 Through mapping the geology of the ocean floor scientists discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge, a feature that suggested that Wegener's unfashionable theory of continental drift might be correct.

These are her thoughts from a biographical piece she wrote upon winning the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Mary Sears Woman Pioneer in Oceanography Award in 1999:
“Not too many people can say this about their lives: The whole world was spread out before me (or at least, the 70 percent of it covered by oceans). I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities, a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to piece together: mapping the world’s vast hidden seafloor. It was a once-in-a-lifetime—a once-in-the-history-of-the-world—opportunity for anyone, but especially for a woman in the 1940s. The nature of the times, the state of the science, and events large and small, logical and illogical, combined to make it all happen.”

Links :

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Our seas have become a plastic graveyard - but can technology turn the tide?

Animals become entangled in waste or swallow plastics dumped in the sea
Credit: Plastic Oceans Foundation

From The Telegraph by Sarah Knapton

When strong winds prevented filmmaker Jo Ruxton from sending a submarine to her chosen recording location off the coast of Marseille, she was naturally nervous.
The crew had just one chance to document evidence of the build-up of rubbish on the seabed for her award-winning film A Plastic Ocean, but were forced to divert miles from where divers had reported a growing dump.
She needn’t have worried.
As the submersible reached a deep trench one mile from the surface, the team were confronted by a junk yard of human debris.
Tyres, plastic water bottles, synthetic netting, unexploded bombs and even an old parachute emerged from the gloom.
The world’s oceans are drowning in human rubbish.
Each year more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally, and 10 per cent will end up in the sea.
It is estimated that there is now a 1:2 ratio of plastic to plankton and, left unchecked, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050.
Not only is the floating haze of scum unsightly, it is also swallowed by marine animals that cannot digest it.
Chemicals leach into the water, and it has been shown that even humans who eat seafood ingest 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year.
Ruxton, who has previously worked as a producer on the BBC’s Blue Planet, said: “People watch wildlife documentaries and think the oceans are still pristine but they aren’t. I’ve known film crews spend two hours clearing up beaches before they can take shots of turtles.”

There are thought to be three million pieces of microplastics in the world's oceans
Credit: Plastic Oceans Foundation

Yet there are signs that the tide may be starting to turn, and Britain could be leading the way.
In 2010, Warwick University announced it had developed a process of recycling all plastic waste.
The technique, called pyrolysis, "cracks" plastic into more basic molecules to form an oil called Plaxx, which can then be used as a fuel, or to make new plastic.
Warwick University spin-off company Recycling Technologies has just opened its first large plant in Swindon, Wiltshire, which operators say will process the plastic of the entire town.
The goal is to roll out similar plants across the world and even install small versions on board dredgers, which can trawl the water, sucking up plastic waste and turning it into fuel to power the ships.
Plastic is notoriously difficult to recycle - and only 12 per cent of household waste is reprocessed. The rest is either burnt or goes to landfill.
The new system aims to turn dumped plastic into a valuable commodity.
“This could really be a game-changing technology,” said Adrian Haworth, of Recycling Technologies.
“There is a worldwide need for it. Only a small amount of plastic is recycled - most ends up in landfill or in the ocean. We need to stop this happening in the first place.
“Eventually we hope to be able to mine landfill sites for plastic, and we’ve had a discussion with a dredging company, with the idea that they would collect the plastic in ports and turn it into fuel on board.”

The US Navy has plasma torches on board to recycle waste

The US Navy and even some cruise ships already operate recycling systems, which take the waste of crew and passengers and heat it to temperatures of more than 5,000C to turn it back into a reusable form.
The plasma torch technology is powerful enough to convert plastics, metals and glass into granules or gas.
The Canadian company behind the system, called PyroGenesis, is planning plasma plants across the world, which could process up to 100 tonnes at a time.

A Dutch entrepreneur is also planning to deploy a pilot device off southern Japan that will, if all goes according to plan, gather and capture some of the millions of tons of plastic that is clogging up the world's oceans.
Some countries, such as Germany, have legislation over plastic.
Since 1991, companies that produce it have been responsible for dealing with their waste, and most supermarkets contain state-of-the art bottle banks that scan bar codes so packaging can be returned to manufacturers.

In 2013, David Katz, a social entrepreneur, founded The Plastic Bank in Lima, Peru, an organisation that pays locals in coastal communities for their plastic bottles, then recycles them, calling the result "social plastic".
Further banks have since been established in Haiti and are due to roll out globally.
The company has released the blueprints for its plastic recycling device so that others can follow suit.
Yet many experts believe that cultural change will have the biggest impact.

Since the 1950s, marketeers have been persuading consumers that plastic is a throwaway product.
One trillion plastic bags are produced globally every year, yet their average working lifespan is just 12 minutes.
“We are in a growing culture of throwaway living,” said Professor Richard Thompson, a global expert on ocean plastics from the University of Plymouth.
“There is an urgent need to recognise that there is no such place as away. Marine debris is damaging to the economy, to wildlife to the environment. It is wasteful and unnecessary, and we all agree that it needs to stop.”

Dredgers are needed to trawl seas collecting waste
Credit: Plastic Oceans Foundation

Ruxton, the producer of A Plastic Ocean, which has been described by Sir David Attenborough as "one of the most important films of our time", said: “It’s crazy how we believe that plastic just disintegrates, and it was because we were told in 1955 that we wouldn’t have to wash up any more.
“But we’re at a tipping point now, and if we don’t act, we won’t be able to go back. In the 1960s we were producing eight million tons of plastic a year. Now it 300 million, and where will we be in another 50 years?
“You go out now and look in the ocean and it is just so prolific. People need to realise that plastic is not disposable. We don’t need all this packaging.”

Musician Jack Johnson has released a 30-minute film called The Smog of the Sea.
It documents a week-long expedition that he and other ‘citizen scientists’ took through the Sargasso Sea of the North Atlantic, to explore the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean.
Guided by ocean researcher Marcus Erikson of 5 Gyres, the participants were stunned to learn that there’s no such thing as a giant floating garbage patch anywhere in the world.

Instead, plastic is everywhere, which is a far worse reality. 
A recent study estimated that nine in 10 of the world’s seabirds have pieces of plastic in their guts.
The southern hemisphere, around New Zealand and Australia, is particularly badly affected because of major polluters such as Indonesia and Thailand.
Some albatross and shearwater have been found to have nearly 3,000 pieces of plastic - up to 8 kg - in their stomachs, the equivalent of a human eating 12 pizzas worth of food.
It can’t be digested, so the birds eventually die through lack of nutrition.
In countries such as Tuvalu, where plastic waste washes up by the ton onto shores, locals suspect links with fertility problems.

Professor Susan Jobling of Brunel University discovered that most plastics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Some 92 per cent of adults in Western countries have plastic and chemicals from plastic production in their systems, and their children have twice as much.
"I hope it will make people really think about how they use plastics and make them wonder, for example, if they really need a plastic drinking straw or a single-use plastic bottle,” said Prof Jobling.

A dead puffer fish among human debris
Credit: Plastic Oceans Foundation

There are even worries that what is visible could be just the tip of the iceberg.
About 70 per cent of all ocean debris sinks down from the surface, leading experts to fear that huge rubbish dumps are accumulating unseen at the bottom of the ocean.
Plastic becomes brittle in seawater because it’s subjected to sunlight, waves and salt.
It breaks up into minute pieces and mixes with plankton, so tiny particles of the plastic are sucked up by marine life.

Craig Leeson, director of A Plastic Ocean, said: “Plastic is the most durable material man has ever made, and every piece ever produced is still on the planet in some shape or form.
“If you take plastic water bottles as an obvious example, one of the major problems is that people are using plastic water bottles thinking they are doing themselves a favour, when they are actually damaging their own health.
“The irony of this is that the water in most of these bottles sold to people is not as good as their own tap water.”

Divers are increasingly reporting human rubbish on the bottom of the ocean
Credit: Plastic Oceans Foundation

David Jones, executive adviser on the film, added: “Technology can only do so much. We need to shift people’s perspectives.
“We need to make plastic valuable again. At the moment, the plastic around a water bottle is far more valuable than the water inside it, but people don’t see it like that.
“It’s bizarre that we have to pay someone to take away what is essentially a valuable commodity. Plastic is worth about £400 a ton, but we just throw it away.
“With global warming, we probably have to accept we’re in a predicament and try and mitigate it, but I think with plastic we are still clinging on to the cliff by our fingertips and we still have the chance to pull ourselves back. We have the capacity to do it.”
A Plastic Ocean can be downloaded from iTunes and screenings are taking place throughout the country.

Links :

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Germany BSH update in the GeoGarage platform

63 nautical raster charts updated (228 including sub-charts)